Examiner’s determination that a claim term is means-plus-function in allowing an application does not bind the Appeals Board and CAFC.

Michael Caridi | June 19, 2017

Skky, Inc. v. Mindgeek, S.A.R.I.

June 7, 2017

Before Lourie, Reyna and Wallach. Opinion by Lourie.


The CAFC held that the Board correctly interpreted the term “wireless device means” as not a means-plus-function limitation.  As a result Skky’s method claim was subject to a broader interpretation making the claim obvious over art which had been of record during prosecution of the application.


Skky owns US patent 7,548,875 (“’875 patent”), which describes a method  for  delivering  audio  and/or  visual  files  to  a  wireless  device. The patent purports to allow users to “browse, download, and listen to or watch sound or image files without the need for hand wired plug-in devices or a computer connection to the Internet.”

During extensive prosecution  the  Examiner relied upon U.S. Patent 7,065,342  (“Rolf”),  which  describes  a  system  and  method  for  wirelessly  transmitting  music  over  a  network  to  a  cellular  phone.    The Examiner only allowed the claims over Rolf after they were amended to recite a “wireless device means,” which the Examiner believed to  be  a  means-plus-function  term  invoking 35 U.S.C.  § 112  ¶ 6.

Claim 1 recites:

  1. A method  of  wirelessly  delivering  over  the  air one  or  more  digital  audio  and/or  visual  files  from  one or more servers to one or more wireless device means comprising:

compressing said one or more digital audio and/or   visual   files,   wherein   said   audio and /or  visual  files  comprise  one  or  more  full  or  partial  master  recordings  of  songs,  musical  scores  or  musical  compositions,  videos or video segments, movies or movie segments,  film  or  [film] segments,  one  or  more image clips, television shows, human voice,  personal  recordings,  cartoons,  film  animation, audio and/or visual advertising content   and   combinations   thereof,   and

wherein  said  compressing  comprises  normalizing,  sampling  and  compressing  said  digital audio and/or visual files; storing   compressed   audio   and/or   visual   files in one or more storage mediums; and transmitting to said wireless device means said  compressed  audio  and/or  visual  files  wirelessly over the air, with or without an Internet network.

Mindgeek filed an IPR asserting that the ‘875 patent was obvious over Rolf in view of a publication entitled  “MP3:  The  Definitive  Guide” (“MP3 Guide”) which  describes  attributes  of  the  mp3  audio  file  format.

In  the  institution  decision for the IPR,  the  Board  determined  that  “wireless  device means” does not invoke § 112 ¶ 6 because “‘wireless device’   is   not   purely   functional   language  but rather language  that  denotes  structure.”

During the IPR proceeding Skky  relied  on  the written  description  and  prosecution  history  to  argue  that  the  term  properly  invokes   § 112 ¶ 6 and has   a function “[t]o request, wirelessly  receive,  and  process  a  compressed  audio  and/or  visual  file, and  structure  that  requires multiple  processors,  wherein  one  or  more  processors  is  a specialized  processor  primarily  dedicated  to  processing  compressed  multimedia  data.

Alternatively, Skky argued that even if  “wireless   device   means”   is   not   a   means-plus-function term it  should  still  be  construed  to  require multiple processors one of which must be a specialized processor.

The Board maintained that the “wireless device means” was not means-plus-function and found that Rolf discloses a  “wireless  device  means”  through  its  disclosure  of  a  cell  phone,  and  Rolf discloses downloading of a song.  Based on those findings, the Board concluded that MindGeek had proven that the challenged claims are  unpatentable  as  obvious.

Skky appealed the Board’s conclusion that “wireless device means” does not invoke § 112 ¶ 6 and does not require multiple  processors  as well as  various  aspects  of  the  merits   of   the   obviousness   determination.

The CAFC noted that to  determine  whether  a  claim  recites  sufficient  structure,  “it  is  sufficient  if  the  claim  term  is  used  in  common  parlance  or  by  persons  of  skill  in  the  pertinent  art  to  designate  structure,  even  if  the  term  covers  a  broad  class  of  structures  and  even  if  the  term  identifies the structures by their function.” TecSec, Inc. v. Int’l  Bus.  Machs. Corp., 731 F.3d 1336, 1347 (Fed. Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

Skky argued that the presence of “means” in “wireless device means” creates the presumption that §112 ¶ 6 has been invoked, and that the function of the “wireless device means” is  “to request, wirelessly receive, and process  a  compressed  audio  and/or  visual  file.”

Skky also  contended  that  the  Examiner’s  specific  indication  that  the  term  invokes  §  112  ¶  6,  as  well  as  MindGeek’s  initial  same  understanding,  counsels  that  result.    Skky argued  that  the  written  description  supports  its  argument relating to the function corresponding to “wireless device means” and that such means requires multiple processors including a specialty processor.

The Court sided instead with MindGeek that “wireless device means” does not invoke §112 ¶ 6 because its  clause recites  sufficient structure. The Court further noted that although the  term  uses  the  word  “means”  and  so  triggers  a presumption,  the  full  term  recites  structure,  not  functionalty; the claims do not recite a function or functions for the wireless device means to perform, and  “wireless device” is “used  in  common  parlance to  designate  structure.”  Skky’s arguments were considered to be an attempt to improperly import limitations from  the  written  description  into  the claims.

The Court went on to insist that they are not bound by the Examiner’s holding that the term was means-plus-function.  As to the Examiner’s  statements  at  the  time  of  allowance  the CAFC noted that this did not  change  the result as the  Examiner  did  not  explain  why  he  believed  “wireless device means” invoked § 112 ¶6, the functionality  performed  by  the  “wireless  device  means,”  or  how  he  believed  the  addition  of  that  term  overcame  the  prior  art  of  record.

Skky further argued that even if “wireless device means” does not invoke § 112 ¶ 6, the term still should be construed to require  multiple  processors,  wherein  one  is  a  specialized  processor  primarily  dedicated  to  processing  compressed  multimedia data.  Skky contended that the written description contains several embodiments requiring a cell phone, which includes a processor, attached to an accessory with its own processor, and that a software only embodiment does not fall within the claim language.  Skky  asserted  that  the  prosecution history also supported this requirement, based on  statements  made  during  prosecution  and  because,  as  the claims were allowed over Rolf, they must cover something more than the wireless device with  a  single  processor disclosed in Rolf.

The CAFC again sided  with  MindGeek  and  the  Board  that  the  challenged  claims  do  not  require  multiple  processors.    Looking to the  written  description, the Court noted that specification contained embodiments where the  wireless  device  contains  multiple  processors but also a software embodiment  in  which the wireless  device  contains  a  single  processor.

Based on this claim construction, the disputed claims were found to be obvious over the previously cited Rolf.  As to the fact that Rolf had been before the Examiner and he had allowed the claim, the Court noted:  “Skky  has  not  cited  any  authority  for  the  proposition  that  once  an  examiner  concludes  that  claims  are  patentable  over  a  reference,  that  reference  may  no  longer  be  considered further in determining a claim’s validity; indeed, the Supreme   Court   has   characterized   the   ‘congressional  objective’  of  the  IPR  process  as  ‘giving  the  Patent  Office significant   power   to   revisit   and   revise   earlier   patent   grants.’ Cuozzo,  136  S.  Ct. at 2139-40. Accordingly, Skky’s general challenges to the Board’s obviousness analysis are not persuasive.”

The CAFC affirmed the Board’s decision.


  • Patent owners upon receiving an allowance should carefully review the Examiner’s reasons for the allowance and if necessary request further clarification as to the basis for allowing the claim.
  • During prosecution, terms which are found to invoke means-plus-function should have the basis for the determination explained by the Examiner in detail.

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